Never Say 'Let's Create a Viral Video'

Basics Q&A: How and Why To Do Content Marketing Now

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Deborah Marquardt has worked at L'Oreal for 10 years, but since June she's occupied a newly created position: senior VP of content strategy and partnerships for L'Oreal USA, overseeing branded content for L'Oreal's 23 U.S. brands.

Deborah Marquardt
Deborah Marquardt

We asked Ms. Marquardt, whose content projects will start to roll out in the fourth quarter, why content matters to marketers more than ever -- and how to go about building content for marketing. One tip: Don't begin by saying "Let's create a viral video."

Our conversation, the latest in our series of Basics Q&As with media leaders and innovators, has been lightly edited.

Advertising Age: In a nutshell, what does your title mean?

Deborah Marquardt: This is a new role that was created within the CMO team at L'Oreal USA. We saw a need to look at defining some best practices in how we talk about and approach content. My role is looking at how we can evolve brand storytelling given consumers' changing relationship with technology and media sharing.

Ad Age : What is the basic case for using content in marketing?

Ms. Marquardt: When we sit down as marketers to talk about bringing something to market, it's very common to say "What story are we trying to tell, who is the intended audience, where do we find them, what is the benefit in this for them?" Story is already at the center of marketing, and we need to keep it central to the process when there are so many touchpoints for consumers and people aren't reading your story in a linear way. They are choosing when and where they interact.

Ad Age : What might content be for a brand?

Ms. Marquardt: It could be a web page, to a print spread, to a 30- to a 15-second ad, to a Twitter feed, to a how-to video, to a web series, to a brand's Facebook page.

Ad Age : How do you determine what works for each brand?

Ms. Marquardt: You have to start with what is your objective. Do you need to change awareness? Perception? Reach a new audience? Do you need to drive an action, show some brand love or instigate sharing?

If I take the case of the L'Oreal brand Dermablend, that 's a small, premium brand and it's well known in the dermatological community and even in theatrical makeup, and it created a video that became a viral sensation for a tattoo coverage product that did not have a media budget. They used the model Rick Genest, known as Zombie Boy (who is covered head-to-toe in tattoos, but appears to have no tattoos at the start of the video) and they proceeded with time lapse to erase him and all his tattoos emerge. [The video earned more than 15 million views]. That came out in 2011, earned a Gold Lion at Cannes, the first for L'Oreal USA, and it created a sea change in awareness.

But you don't say, "Let's create a viral video." They set out to create an interesting and arresting way to show product efficacy. Once it caught on, we were able to do a YouTube homepage buy, but that wasn't in the cards originally.

Ad Age : How can marketers tell whether it worked?

Ms. Marquardt: For a brand like Dermablend, you will see the spike in awareness in particular. But we also look overall at key performance indicators across awareness, engagement and conversion, and those are some standards. With a lot of narrative marketing approaches we can look at purchase intent and conversions, but it's about an ongoing conversation, and you will start to see those metrics build over time. There's a dialogue and consumers are going to let you know when something isn't working.

Ad Age : How else is content marketing changing your job?

Ms. Marquardt: We are talking to human resources here about what the skillsets are that we need for content marketers. Strong analytical skills are always important, but greater emphasis will be put on communications, writing, and creative skills. Companies increasingly need strong hybrids who understand technology, but also have a sense of story and interconnectivity.

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